The year 2014 will be the 75th Anniversary of the premiere of the movie Gone With the Wind(GWTW) but many collectors and knowledgeable fans are saddened to see one of the great collectors and gentlemen won’t be there; Herb Bridges has passed away. Herb Bridges once owned one of the largest GWTW collections in the world and after selling much of it he kept other items on display at the Road to Tara Museum in Jonesboro, Ga.
Bridges, who always had a smile on his face and spoke with a slow southern drawl love to talk about “Mah-gret Mih-chull” and “Gown With the Wind.” He was a respected expert on Gone With The Wind and for years was a sought after speaker. With the enthusiasm he had for GWTW and for life in general it is hard to believe he was 83, almost 84.
Herb passed away on Tuesday and as his family, wife Eleanor, sons Joe and Bill and daughter Anne Clayton gathered at their family home in Georgia, they shared memories as well as tears.
“We think he must have had a massive heart attack,” said Anne. “While I am sad that he is gone, if I could choose a way for my dad to pass, this is exactly how it would be. Anyone who knows him knows he would not have liked a long illness or confinement in a nursing home. He was walking to the pond and it was a beautiful day and he was out in the yard.”
Herb was active until the end, continuing to be involved in GWTW activites. In 2010 he traveled to St. Louis, Mo. for the “Gateway To The Wind” festival and wowed the audience with his Gone With the Wind Power-Point presentation complete with pictures from the movie and movie premiere.
He had the credibility to talk on the subject as he had co-written several books including “Gone With the Wind, Screenplay (Simon & Schuster, 1989), “Frankly My Dear, Gone With the Wind Memorabilia” (Mercer University Press, Macon, GA 1995) and “Gone With the Wind, The Definitive Illustrated History of the Book, the Movie and the Legend” (Fireside by Simo and Schuster, 1989)
This past week Herb sent me some information and we spoke on the phone, something that was common for us throughout the time I got to know him. He always kept me in touch with what he was involved in and was excited because there is a traveling exhibit opening in Virginia around the time of Margaret Mitchell’s birthday Nov. 8, and it will feature several of the authentic bonnets he had collected from the movie.
I is a Hollywood Costume exhibit and his GWTW bonnets were the only items from Gone With the Wind. The exhibit, organized by the Victoria & Albert Museum of London called Hollywood Costumes explores the central role costume design plays in cinematic storytelling. It features clothing worn by unforgettable characters from such films as The Wizard of Oz, The Birds, My Fair Lady, Superman, Titanic, Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince and The Dark Knight Rises.
“He was tickled to have his bonnets at the exhibit in Richmond,” said Anne Clayton, who had just arrived from her home in North Carolina on Wednesday.
“Most of the Gone With The Wind costumes are in the Harry Ransom Center in Texas and they will be having their own exhibit for the 75th, so they (the Virginia people) were happy to get my two bonnets,” Herb had told me.
“How are you doing Herb?” I asked him and he answered with his customary “Fahhhhn, doin’ just fahhhhne.”
He was happy because his beloved Eleanor had come along and was doing so much better after suffering injuries last year in a car accident. He never ended a conversation without mentioning how Eleanor was doing.
Herb Bridges was my first friend in the Gone With the Wind world. He invited me to Jonesboro, Ga. To a special dinner being held at Stately Oaks, a beautiful old “plantation” type house in Clayton County, where Margaret Mitchell’s family was from and where the book was set. At the dinner he introduced me to the people in attendance and told them I was working on a book.
Throughout the time I wrote the book, “The Making of a Masterpiece, the True Story of Margaret Mitchell and Gone With The Wind” (Global Book Publishers, Beverly Hills, 2010) he was available to me and suggested people I could talk to and went the extra step in introducing me to those who could help
At 2010 Gateway To the Wind: Back Row: Sally Rains, Herb Bridges, Greg Giese, Mickey Kuhn, Patrick Curtis, Joe Yakovetic ,Front Row: Mark Rabwin, Paul Rabwin, Novella Perrin.
Herb even wrote a blurb for the back of my book which read: “I enjoyed reading this book and feel that Sally Tippett Rains is covering new ground concerning ‘Gone With the Wind’ and Miss Mitchell…and I believe there will be a waiting reading public for “The Making of a Masterpiece”.
Bridges started out working at the Lowes Theatre in Atlanta—the same theatre where Gone With the Wind premiered when he was in high school. He would see the movie posters that were hand painted, and years later he was able to buy some of the original posters to add to his collection.
It wasn’t just the material things from the film that interested him. He was very interested in Margaret Mitchell, who he referred to as “Miss Mitchell” and he knew members of the Mitchell family. He knew people who had known her and he knew quite a lot about her.
“Miss Mitchell was a very private person and the fame that she got overwhelmed her,” he told me. “She didn’t need it because her family was already a prominent family in Atlanta and she was happy with her life the way it was.”
He knew Margaret Mitchell’s brother Stephens and even got to know Stephens’ sons who were the closest relatives to the author as she and her husband John Marsh did not have children.
Stories he told were always interesting and contained “insider” information, some of which was personal and not used in my book, but he never engaged In gossip or spoke ill of anyone in the Mitchell family.
There was always intrigue surrounding the remaining son, Joseph, who was rumored to have lived out his life in a big house with a staff who took care of him, and even called a “recluse” by some I spoke to. Even though He knew some private information about him Herb protected the family’s secrets and the memory of Margaret Mitchell.
He once said he remembered seeing Margaret Mitchell in a picture christening the ship Atlanta, and said that even though she was a “frugal” person, “I noticed she had on a fur coat. I remember thinking to myself, ‘good for her, she finally spent some money on herself.’”
He told the story of when Stephens suffered an injury from a freak accident just walking down the sidewalk.
And about her continued relationship with the family of the young man she was reportedly engage to who was killed in World War II:
“Miss Mitchell kept in touch with Clifford Henry’s parents,” he once told me. “They would come to town to visit on their way to Floriday. She gave them a set of Wedgewood demitasse cups one year on a trip to Atlanta.”
I asked him how he got involved in being such an expert on Gone With the Wind.
“I was from Sharpsburg, Georgia an area just south of Atlanta,” said Bridges. “There came a time in the 1960’s when Atlanta started building large hotels to attract the convention business. People began coming to Atlanta in great numbers and they had this romantic picture of Gone With the Wind in their mind. They were asking questions and I found a niche, using my interest in Gone with the Wind for lecturing and speaking at conventions.
Among the many items in his original collection he said he was interested in the book itself and had several first editions, and had copies of the book in every language in which it was printed.
Besides Mitchell’s family, Herb knew others connected to the famous author including her secretary Margaret Baugh.
Years ago at a special Gone With the Wind event in Atlanta, Marcella Rabwin came in to give her memories. She was the executive assistant to GWTW producer David O. Selznick. He was there when she became ill and was taken to the hospital and later was able to talk to her sons about knowing their mother when they were also in St. Louis for the “Gateway to the Wind” Festival.
This week as the news filters out about Herb’s death there will be many stories and happy memories from those whose lives he touched. I know mine is a lot richer for having known this great gentleman of the South. I plan to watch Gone With the Wind again and I will be thinking of Herb Bridges.
My parents, Margie and Jack Tippett with Herb Bridges and one of his books he had just signed for them. 2010
Sally Tippett Rains is the author of “The Making of Masterpiece, the True Story of Margaret Mitchell and Gone With The Wind” and is the content manager of StLSportsPage.com. You can subscribe to this blog and join her GWTWBook Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/pages/GWTWbookcom/394926172974